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Aqua Lung

Chapter Text

 

At first I see an open wound
infected and disastrous
It breathes chaotic catastrophe
it cries to be renewed

-incubus, new skin


 

“I don’t think it sounds good.”

It’s nighttime and it should be cold but Seungyoun burns nonetheless. It must be forty degrees out, it’s summer and it’s sweltering, the whir of the AC is loud against the sudden quiet in the room. Seungyoun’s skin is chocolate melting off his bones.

Seungwoo doesn’t seem to mind the the heat. His bare feet continue to tap onto the wooden floor, fingers idly caressing the rosewood fret board of his bass. “Something sounds off.” The man complains and he rakes his damp hair back. He is obviously unsettled that he cannot seem to figure out what’s wrong.

“Give it a rest.” Seungyoun murmurs after he flips onto his soft belly. He blearily stares at Seungwoo, watches rivulets of sweat run down Seungwoo’s temples. “It’s the ass crack of dawn and my neighbors will complain because you’re not supposed to disturb honest working people on a weekday.” Seungwoo chuckles quietly and finally puts down his stickerbombed Gibson. It’s the same from years ago. Seungyoun assumes that the bassist must have a very peculiar attachment to the instrument because he is still using it even now when it looks about ready to fall apart.

“Why do you still use that?” Seungyoun asks like an afterthought. “You don’t ever plan on using a precision bass?”

Seungwoo stares at the beat up Gibson Thunderbird in his grasp. He looks at the guitar like a proud parent. “Maybe someday. Anyway, I’m sorry about disturbing you this late, Youn.”

“M’okay. You do it all the time anyway.” Seungwoo’s scent permeates the space and the heat seemed to concentrate it further. Seungyoun tries to ignore it but Seungwoo smells cold. He’s a pine forest in winter. So, so, cold. It’s exactly what Seungyoun needs.

Seungwoo stands up, “I guess you could say that.” He approaches and casually lands on Seungyoun’s bed. Seungyoun wants to sit up, tuck his head underneath Seungwoo’s chin and have the alpha breathe into his neck.

It’s so fucking hot and Seungwoo’s so fucking cold.

Seungwoo is an alpha. He smells that of a pine forest but when he gets closer, Seungyoun can smell petrichor and carnations. It’s strange but he wants to inhale it, have his lungs freeze with it. Seungwoo presses an ice cold palm on Seungyoun’s burning back. Seungyoun has yet to decide if the touch is unwarranted or otherwise. He leans against the touch and he abhors the way his repressed omega fucking preens.

Sometimes, Seungyoun does not like himself.

“Can I stay the night?”

Seungwoo is gentle, from the way he looks to the way he speaks. That’s his defining trait. Everything Seungyoun knows about him is soft, all his sharp edges dulled. Seungyoun is weak for him.

“Sure.” Seungyoun mumbles and he falls asleep in a pine forest.

 

♬♬♬

It began when their original bassist left.

They called themselves Eve. It’s written with an upside down V and flanked by mirrored Es. The first time Seungyoun saw their finished icon, he thought it resembled a crest for some demonic cult. Maybe back then they were aiming for that image - the rage of youth playing for reckless souls. They were younger then, lost in the void and trying to get by without crashing and burning from the get go.

Eve was the most peculiar looking hodgepodge of misfits and Eve was Seungyoun’s only family. Yohan’s indiscernible screams of poetic angst and violence, Hangyul and Jinhyuk’s dirty riffs all rounded by the heaviness of Minsoo’s bass - this is Seungyoun’s family, and with them he is home. They were idealists, they didn’t make much and that was alright. Their music was the only thing that mattered, as long as Seungyoun can throw his drumsticks to a bunch of equally adoring misfits, they’ll be fine. Or so they thought. 

Two years it took before they’re falling apart, two years before they realized that sometimes music isn’t enough.

“I’m too old for this.”

Their practice sessions became poorly concealed pity parties where everyone is miles away from sober. Yohan’s voice deteriorated, his throat closing up and burning in pain when he attempts to sing notes that used to come so easily to him. Hangyul, ever aloof Hangyul, showed his concerns through blame strung into words that lanced. He didn't know how to properly display it but he’s only ever stirred away from his apathy when Yohan’s concerned. Yohan’s armor is cracked, they all know this but he never lets Hangyul in to step all over him.

Seungyoun thinks their unacknowledged love is more fucked up than all of them combined.

 

The sudden removal of the bass was so apparent, it’s something impossible to hide unlike Yohan’s debilitation. After all, Minsoo’s bass line was the core of their experimental sound, it’s their insignia, it’s what made them Eve.

Minsoo removed the instrument from his person. His eyes were bloodshot, Seungyoun couldn’t decide if the streaks of red were from the tears he tried to hold back or from the pot he’d been smoking mere minutes ago. It could be both; it didn’t matter anymore.

“This,” Minsoo indented with a loud sniffle. He was a big person, unmistakably alpha. But as he struggled not to sob against his closed fist, Seungyoun was convinced that premeditated behaviors dictated by their subgender was merely a textbook allusion. Real life fucked everyone up in the end and it chose its victims in random.

Seungyoun thought about dartboards with their names on it. That day, the dart landed on Minsoo.

“I can’t do this anymore. The drugs, the cheap sex. It’s too much. I’m too old for this, can’t do it anymore. It’ll fucking kill me.”

They all heard this too: I’m too old for dingy music houses, too old to chase for elusive success in this fucking path, too old for irrecoverable failure. They didn’t say anything because maybe, just maybe, they understood Minsoo for he was brave enough to address the reality they could not bear to face head on.

And they thought they were rock stars, in reality they were just little boys trying to survive in the big bad world.

After two years, they watched Minsoo pack his bags and walk out.

♬♬♬

 

What happened next was a domino of events that ranged from mere shitty to downright fucked up.

Yohan and Hangyul casually fell into bed and into their vices. They were too wrapped up in their collective sadness to realize that maybe, all they needed was each other. They were fire and gasoline and they razed everything to the ground including the posts that held up what Seungyoun once called his family. Jinhyuk, ever strong leader Jinhyuk, watched them burn and turn to ash. He said nothing, what’s there to say anyway?

“Youn.” Jinhyuk was drunk, all of them were but Jinhyuk’s inebriation was soul deep. He tried to drown his inefficiency in his booze and in his drugs. He tried to be the rock star they all could not be. “You deserve better, Seungyoun.”

We all deserve better, but we’re cowards.

 

Seungwoo walked into their lives months after Minsoo and the destruction he’d left behind. The first thought Seungyoun had was this: pine forests. Seungwoo smelled like a pine forest in winter. He was the cold that contrasted greatly with the heat and filth that emanated from within Eve.

He had the most disarming smile.

“Heard you lost a member.” Seungwoo said this like a casual greeting, his expression almost mocking. Seungyoun cannot read him. “Sorry about that.”

The pub they’d been at was questionable at best, illegal at worst. Eve lounged in one of the unclean backrooms, trying to drown out the sounds of loud fucking from the next door. Nobody batted an eyelash.

Jinhyuk stood up and met Seungwoo’s steady gaze. “Yeah. What do you want?”

“To play bass.”

To this, Yohan laughed, obsequious to some degree. “Who the fuck do you think you are?”

“I’m Seungwoo.”

 

There was this thing about Seungwoo Han. He carried himself in the most carefree of manner that it felt off. His apathy was a defense mechanism. You can’t move me. He was a paradox unlike everyone else that has come and gone throughout Seungyoun’s life. There was something about him that seemed to be buried underneath endless layers of lock and key. Seungyoun has yet to figure it out. For now Seungwoo had an arsenal of secretive smiles and an armor of casual demeanor - too curated, too fake.  

Yohan cursed at Seungwoo, because that was his thing - he acted like a wounded animal and he ignored subgenders. Alphas can go fuck themselves. Seungwoo, as an alpha, can go fuck himself too. “And you think you can replace Minsoo? How about you get the fuck outta here.”

“Yohan shut the fuck up.” and that was Hangyul. He was the equalizing entity to Yohan’s personality. He was either gasoline or water to Yohan’s perpetual fiery rage.

The unease permeated the room. Amid the smell of booze and cigarette smoke, there were Yohan’s rose and Hangyul’s wood and spice. Hangyul had circled his fingers around Yohan’s wrist, pulled him down. Yohan volleyed him with a lethal gaze. Hangyul stared back with deadened eyes. “Let Jinyuk talk for a second, quit this will you?” Yohan swatted Hangyul’s hand away, “Well if it isn’t convenient for you, Gyul. You always acted like you were better than Minsoo anyway. Between the both of us, it's you who should shut the fuck up.” He gave Seungwoo another baleful glare before he stood up and left. Seungyoun heard Jinhyuk’s exhale. The leader grabbed a bottle of beer from the trashed table.

“Play bass?” Jinhyuk’s plump lower lip was caught on the rim of the bottle. Seungyoun didn’t miss Seungwoo’s gaze on Jinhyuk, on his lips. “I’m afraid we’re all quite fucked up right now. But sure, got something to show?”

Seungwoo grinned, secretive, guarded. “My band’s playing before Eve. I’m quitting right after. Don’t disappoint me.” He turned and left. He was so self assured that it bordered on being arrogant. It killed Seungyoun to think that he found it attractive.

 

Seungwoo played bass like the finest virtuoso. He played with a Gibson Thunderbird, the instrument could have been black underneath those stickers, Seungyoun wasn’t sure for he was far too busy ogling the one playing. Seungyoun could not stop thinking that Seungwoo should have been standing on a bigger stage, heralded by thunderous applause. Instead, he’s on a rickety platform, in a shady pub located in the town’s dodgiest area, playing for a bunch of wayward souls drunk with their choice of substance.

The band was obviously going for some type of Nu Metal sound, but the frontman was too weak for it. He screamed his notes like a mourner’s burial screech. It was Seungwoo who commanded their genre, the heavy tones spilling from his guitar provided a body for their horribly disjointed sound. His sultry stares made the audience wild, and the screams went louder when he leaned forward, past the barricade to fuck the crowd with his eyes. Then he was gone, stepping away and smirking

See, Seungwoo Han was enthralling in his restraint and his mystery. He made you feel like you could have him, you could come so close, almost like touching and then he would dissipate. He would revel in the fact that you can only see and touch what’s on his surface but never deep enough to know his secrets.

The same could be said with his playing. His long fingers pranced on the rosewood fret board and he made it look so fucking easy. Everyone thinks they can play as good as he does but that’s where his deception lie. Seungyoun looked at Seungwoo manipulate his instrument like he was enjoying some sort of meaningless fuck with a person he truly loved.

“Fuckin’ good.” Jinhyuk comments. His perpetual state was in between drunk and sober. “fucker, knows how to play.”

Seungyoun did not bother to learn the band’s name. It was an unnecessary information. “Yeah, you wanna recruit him?”

After the last twang from the guitars had reverberated into its last notes, the place erupted into raucous chaos, interrupted by punches of derogatory hoots. Seungwoo swiped his tongue against his bottom lip. Seungyoun noticed the way Seungwoo’s shirt clung to his body like second skin, the black contrasted greatly against his pale flesh. His ripped skinny pants seemed slightly obnoxious.

“Do you think Yohan will kill me?” Jinhyuk asked, more like an afterthought for the moment he first heard Seungwoo play, the decision has been made. Jinhyuk’s scent was stronger, Seungyoun noticed. If he closed his eyes, he could almost imagine the beach, saltwater on his tongue, the wind on his face. “He’s probably beheaded me in his mind when I let Minsoo walk out anyway. All this fucking in the band gets us all fucked in the end, figuratively.”

“Don’t say anything for now.” Seungyoun watched Seungwoo and the rest of his band leave the stage. “Yohan’s gotta accept that his former booty call ain’t coming back no matter how good of a lay he was and that we need a replacement, pronto.”

Jinhyuk shrugged, “Or maybe Hangyul can just fuck that attitude out of his system, or like finally admit that he loves Yohan too fucking much that it’s painfully obvious.”

Seungyoun acknowledged this though not a word left his lips.

♬♬♬

 

Yohan’s voice deteriorated further and his hatred for Seungwoo, the official replacement, was like scratching a scabbed over wound until it never stopped bleeding. They were chaos personified, a  death metal band with a frontman who couldn’t even scream his part practically equated to their demise. Jinhyuk has had enough. He played his guitar like he wanted it broken.

“This is a fucking mess.”

The scant money they earn go to cheap studios, those that catered to the likes of them. They humored themselves as musicians though they do know that everyone outside their scene thought nothing of them but mere fools who made noise and slapped a label on it. Maybe there was some sort of truth to that statement.

Yohan’s rose bloomed like a signal that his irritation was flaring. “Got any problem with it Seungwoo? Do you wanna take my role too? Do you wanna sing?”

Seungwoo stared at Yohan, his expression was carefully impassive, ever calm and guarded. Seungyoun thought that maybe he smelled like a pine forest because his alpha was stable, nothing could tick him off into a rage. He was a pine forest that stood unwavering in the middle of a violent blizzard.

“Go see a fucking doctor.”

For a heartbeat, complete and utter fury crosses Yohan’s face. He looked like he wanted to gouge the alpha’s eyes out in anger, and then the expression disappeared replaced by something so pathetically vulnerable. Yohan crumpled to the ground and wept like something’s completely shattered within him. “I fucking hate you.” He seethed at Seungwoo though everyone knew the sentiment was directed to himself. “It should have been Minsoo, not some fucking stranger, telling me what to do.”

“If he truly cared, he would have said something. I know we’re not friends, but you’re my fucking band mate. And if I have to make it my fucking obligation to drag you to a doctor, then I will. Your voice is essential to his band. You can hate me all you want but don’t be so fucking selfish.”

Nobody moved a muscle as the confrontation unfolded. Nobody dared breathe.

Seungyoun stared at Seungwoo. Yohan was still on the floor, his entire body quaking. Hangyul knelt beside the frontman, pulling Yohan’s body to his. For the first time, Yohan did not react. Jinhyuk was so, so unbearably quiet as the events unfolded. “He’s right, Han.” The vocalist inhaled as he braced himself on Hangyul’s body to stand up.

“I need a minute.”

Everyone else watched him leave.

 

♬♬♬

 

Through the course of their career, Seungwoo and Jinhyuk shared a sort of mutualism. They used each other for whatever sort of beneficial gain, from being fuck buddies to musical critiques.

Seungyoun overheard them talk one time. It was near midnight and both alphas stood in the balcony of their shared flat. Seungyoun watched them pass the same bottle of beer between each other; the smell of marijuana was thick in the air. Seungyoun should have left then and there but he felt compelled to stay rooted to his spot.

He could hear their voices so clearly amid the late night traffic and the shouting of delinquents fourteen floors below. He definitely should not have been there. Jinhyuk and Seungwoo ignored his presence.

“I couldn’t even do shit for him. It was the least I could do but I just fucking watched while he destroyed himself. Some fucking leader I am. “

The alphas’ combined scent was peculiar - a pine forest and the sea. Seungyoun concentrated on it, tried to ignore the way Jinhyuk’s voice cracked. “Should have been the grown up, should have fucking told him.”

“You could have begged him and it wouldn’t change no goddamn thing. There’s no helping him when he didn’t have enough grit to help himself. Yohan’s practically a stranger to me, maybe I was the push he needed.” Seungwoo’s voice was calm, almost a whisper.

“I brought them all to this band. One way or another, I’m responsible for every one of us. But I watched Minsoo walked away and we’re all just falling apart because I can’t fucking do anything.”  

Seungyoun has known Jinhyuk for years, and in all that time, he’s never seen the alpha be vulnerable in front of someone else. Jinhyuk doesn’t cry, he can keep a straight face even in his weakest. Though this time, there was a break in his voice as he came awfully close to tears.

Seungwoo placed a hand on Jinhyuk’s shoulders, urging the other to face him. There was a moment, a charged moment, an understanding. It elapsed in mere seconds. Seungwoo leaned into whisper something to Jinhyuk, it could be assurances, it could be false promises. Jinhyuk’s reply was to bracket Seungwoo onto the metal railing and kissing him.

Then and there, Seungyoun thought about the peculiarities of the universe, how an aberrant entity could send meteors crashing through space; that one small being such as the existence of Han Seungwoo could alter Seungyoun’s fabric of reality. His organs felt like they were shriveling, like getting doused in boiling water.

Why was it painful?

Seungwoo anchored himself on Jinhyuk’s shoulders, angled his neck like it’s an offering. Seungyoun shut his eyes and made himself scarce.

♬♬♬

 

Yohan eventually faced his demons and his diagnosis gave the band an ultimatum.

Seungyoun hated tense discussions. They sat in a circle facing each other though Seungwoo was sitting on the window ledge and staring into the crude graffiti decorating the wall of the building next to theirs. They were quiet, like one little tap might shatter the fragile connection they thought they once had.

Like Minsoo, Yohan began with, “Can’t do it anymore.” Yohan had his palms pressed to his face. The last time Seungyoun heard him speak this calmly was years ago, when they weren’t in such a difficult situation, when Jinhyuk didn’t turn to alcohol to deal with his problems, when Hangyul didn’t smoke his lungs to ashes, when he and Seungyoun didn’t chew on their prescription medication like candy, when they were okay, when they were Eve.

Seungwoo stared at Jinhyuk from across the room, the bassist nodded and there was a look on his face that seemed to hold all the secrets of the universe, a look that Jinhyuk seemed privy to.

“I’m not allowing you to quit.” Jinhyuk evenly said. The guitarist’s face was unreadable now that he’s temporarily sober. Jinhyuk’s sea breeze washes over them, stable, strong, alpha. “Not now, not ever, not like this.”

“What the fuck do you want me to do, fucking sing pop? I told you, Jinhyuk. I want to continue but I physically can’t.” Yohan took this harder than all of them combined for he was looking at the eyes of his own mistakes and he was utterly powerless to rectify what he’d done. It was painful, knowing that there’s nothing that could be done to ease their suffering. Seungyoun can only watch and sit still as they crack from the weight of their collective sins.

It was Hangyul who stood up first. With shaking fingers, he grabbed a crumpled pack of cigarettes from his back pocket. “If we have to create an entirely new fucking genre, we’ll do it.” He took one long drag, exhaling unsteadily. “Don’t leave. This is our dream.”

Hangyul’s scent was overwhelming, further compounded by his visceral distress. Seungyoun, being the singular omega in the room, inadvertently could not stop feeling like he was being backed into some allegorical wall. Biology was a bitch, and the bitch deemed it thus that Seungyoun was in danger with three upset alphas in his general vicinity. He probably reeked. Jinhyuk once told him he smelled like a Reese cup smothered in honey.

“I’m sorry, Youn.” Jinhyuk sat beside him. Seungyoun pressed his face on Jinhyuk’s neck, inhaling the scent. The alpha was comforting without alcohol tampering his natural sea breeze. “I’m fine.” Seungyoun whispered, embarrassed.

“You’re an omega?” Seungwoo questioned. For once his expression was not carefully impassive.

Seungyoun, raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, you got a problem with that?”

“Nothing, just surprised is all. But here,” He dropped a battered notebook to the coffee table where it joined a mess of beer bottles and a half-filled ashtray. “I write songs, softer than what we’re used to, but they’re something we can work around with. It’ll be easier on your throat and maybe one of us can sing backup.”

For the first time since they met, Yohan looked at Seungwoo without hatred shining on his eyes.

 

♬♬♬

 

Eve’s first official show as an alternative metal band coaxes violent ire from their loyal audience. They were bigshots in the underground scene, hailed to be the greatest thrash band in recent memory. They were an embarrassment now. Just a couple of has beens.

The purists will be mad, they were expecting it one way or another.

Eve became soft, somewhat, despite looking exactly like they used to. Jinhyuk was covered in even more ink than they first began, black lines skirting up his neck and occupying the entirety of his back. The difference was that he played more finely, his and Hangyul’s skills were highlighted by their shift in genre. Yohan sang cleaner vocals and Seungwoo rounded their sound with his bass and his voice. Seungyoun thinks they’re better.  

The consensus was that Seungwoo’s material was great but not exactly what their previous audience expected from them.

 

Hangyul slapped Seungwoo’s back when they exited the stage, boos and screams of appreciation shouted in equal passion by the throng of people behind them.

“We killed it.” Hangyul said, smile splitting his peculiarly endearing face. He reeked of spice, of cinnamon. “We fucking slayed it.”

“They hated us.” Yohan rolled his eyes. “but they’re gonna adore us soon enough, especially with pretty boy out here fucking the air.” The beta glanced at Seungwoo, expression fond. “Thanks, you ain’t so terrible after all.”

“You’re welcome.” Seungwoo grinned as he suddenly hooked his arm around Seungyoun’s waist. “Honey, what you think?” He stared at Seungyoun with those subdued amber eyes and the drummer’s legs felt like they were slowly turning into gelatin. He shrugged Seungwoo off him, chuckling to cover his unease. “They hate us but we’re gonna make it.”

Jinhyuk clambered over them, drunk off a few bottles of beer and high from their stage. “We’re gonna fucking make it.”

And they will.

 

♬♬♬

 

The band’s take-off was an inorganic process. They began, they fall apart, they regroup, they succeed, they fall apart once more.

They played their third show in a different venue. It was a small music house, but it catered to a more diverse audience. For the first time in Eve’s history, they were faced with people who didn’t find camaraderie in death metal and the most appalling of fashion.

And they played like it was their last. Seungyoun’s arms ached from exhaustion and his drumsticks were worn enough that one more hit might completely shatter them. Jinhyuk’s drunkenness seemed to heighten his previously hidden skills as he scratched his Stratocaster like a born again virtuoso.

Behind his drums, Seungyoun concentrated on his beat, on his tempo, every stroke perfected and resonant. He could hear Seungwoo’s voice in his ears and like everything else about Seungwoo, it was equally enthralling.  

They finished to the whole area screaming for an encore. Eve played their last song and then they stood in front of the crowd with arms over each others’ shoulders, sweat trickling from one body to the next.

 

There was a man waiting for them in their room at the back of the club, the place is noticeably cleaner, with thicker walls so they don’t hear people fucking from the next door. The man was middle aged and he gave Eve his best professional smile and a bunch of papers that held the promises of world domination. When he offered Eve the contract they’ve been waiting for all these years, they looked at each other and screamed like happy little children.

For the second time, Eve was born.